Crooning in fluent Khmer on CTN has turned these former missionaries into overnight favourites with Cambodians
Todd (left) and Trevor make up half of Muk – meaning “octopus” – a Khmer-language singing sensation.
How did you start singing Khmer music?
Todd: When a song is popular in Cambodia, it is played over and over and over again. When I was a missionary, I started picking up lyrics just cycling through my neighbourhood. I would sing them for friends and neighbours once I knew the lyrics and they thought it was the funniest thing for a foreigner to sing their songs. And all the band's members have musical backgrounds.
How did you hone your talents?
Trevor: We'd go to karaoke bars to sing for fun.
What kind of music do you play?
Todd: We've done mostly Cambodian love songs and classics, like Sin Sisamouth, but the danger is that Cambodians get really angry when you modify their classics too much, and some artists who've crossed the line have been done for. I really like singing the classics but I'd like to diversify. I don't know if I'd sing about political issues, though.
Since you played on CTN, have people stopped you on the street?
Trevor: Pretty much every where we go. I thought by now, three or four weeks after we played, it would die down, but it hasn't. People always ask us to sing for them on the spot. Even in remote places. A couple of weeks ago, we were in a village in Mondulkiri, and people recognised us and (lead singer) Jordan sang for them.
What does the future hold in store?
Todd: We've had all sorts of opportunities opening up for us. We'll probably produce some music videos when we are back in the US. CTN wants us to come back in November for a concert at Olympic Stadium and they've extended a lot of other opportunities for us, including opportunities outside of music. They offered for us to be VJs on CTN for a music show and they are interested in our film talents. The sky is the limit.
Could you have a band if you were still missionaries?
Todd: No, it's full-time work. Now, it's just like we're students and guys who know Khmer. We're no longer missionaries or church representatives, we're just normal members. Once the mission is over, you move on with your life.
Does this feel like an extension of your two years as missionaries or is this a new identity?
Todd: It feels like a bit of both. When people ask us how we know Khmer, we are excited to tell them we were missionaries and we are excited about anyone who is willing to listen to the church's message, but we're not here to do that work anymore.
Do you think it's exciting for [Cambodians] to have you guys in such a high profile?
Trevor: We mentioned on CTN that we were previously missionaries, but that's not what most people recall when we meet them. They remember that we like their food, that we said one of the girls on the show was beautiful. But some missionaries have told us that it opens up opportunities for them to connect with Cambodians because they saw us singing in Khmer on TV.
Todd: At the same time I wonder if it burdens their work, people going to the church and saying, "Yeah, we're interested in those guys on TV but not you."
Could you add spiritual aspects to your music? What would be the boundaries?
Todd: I'd like to. I think there are ways to do that without making the music too preachy because people in Cambodia are easily turned off.... When we were prepping at CTN for our performance, we were told if you mention the word Jesus Christ ... viewers would turn off their televisions immediately, but I don't think that's true. I'm not sure where the fine line would be. With any songs we write in the future, it will probably have some spiritual side, it's been such a huge part of my life here. For the CTN show in November, we played around with the thought of doing a Christian hymn and seeing how that goes over.
Does being part of a popular band gel with Mormon doctrine?
Todd: Yes and no. At the CTN performance for raising money for soldiers at Preah Vihear, the organisers offered us bottles of sra pinedey ("earth liquor") as a gift, but as members of the Mormon Church we don't drink alcohol. We told them we don't want to stand on the stage holding bottles of alcohol, but they said it would be an offense not to accept the gift, especially since it was from one of their sponsors. We settled it by just accepting the gift on stage and saying we're going to send it to the soldiers at Preah Vihear, and everyone was happy with that.